I live in one of the areas hit by the London riots. On Sunday night, at least ten shop windows in my local High Street were trashed. Shops at the end of my street have been closing early for the past few days, as a “precautionary measure”. As my family drove out of the city for the day yesterday morning, we saw the huge pall of smoke from the burnt-out Sony distribution centre in Enfield: a sinister smudge hanging over North London.
It’s hard to feel positive about being a Londoner right now. It’s also hard to feel positive about London’s children and young people. Some have been sharing their thoughts on what has been happening, and why. If you care about the capital’s children, such clips make for uncomfortable listening, no matter what your views on the wider causes of the disturbances. It is especially unsettling to hear that some of those involved were as young as 12 or 13 (a claim made by David Cameron this morning).
It seems to me to be far too soon to figure out why this has happened. Why now. Why these young people. Why in some parts of London, but not in other parts. Why in Manchester, and Nottingham, and Bristol, and Gloucester, and not in say, Sheffield or Glasgow.
I want to make a different point – one echoed by the Prime Minister in his statement. Please, remember that only a tiny minority of the capital’s children were involved in these appalling events.
Even in Hackney, there were at most around 100 or 200 people under the age of 18 engaged in the violence, theft and destruction that we saw on our screens. (It’s hard to get an accurate figure, though it is clear that many of the rioters were adults.) Hackney has a population of around 25,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19 [pdf link]. This means that the overwhelming majority of Hackney’s children over 10 – over 99 per cent in fact – had nothing whatsoever to do with the riots.
We cannot and should not demonise the many because of the behaviour of the few. If we do so, we risk fuelling a sense of injustice that will only make it harder for young people to feel any sense of connection with the city.